Publication Date: Wednesday Mar 10, 1999
Editorial: Sher quietly makeshistoric impactState senator plays key role in negotiating landmark Headwaters forest deal
Byron Sher is not a headline seeker. Unlike many politicians, he doesn't issue a lot of press releases and doesn't seek credit even where credit is due.
And that makes this week a perfect opportunity to recognize what Palo Alto's state senator describes, only when asked, as one of his greatest career achievements: helping negotiate the permanent preservation of California's last unprotected old-growth redwood forest.
With 19 years in the state Legislature, Sher is not only one of the most senior and experienced lawmakers, he is widely recognized as the leading environmentalist. He chairs the Senate environmental quality committee and previously chaired the Assembly natural resources committee for over 10 years.
Sher was the Legislature's point person on state and federal negotiations to buy the Headwaters forest in Humboldt County from Pacific Lumber Co. Chairing a task force overseeing the state's interests, he was involved in every aspect of the negotiations and stood with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and federal officials in refusing to back down during the hours leading up to the midnight deadline on March 1.
A former contracts law professor at Stanford Law School, Sher also brought a unique ability to ensure that policy goals were tightly incorporated into the final agreement.
With only minutes to go before a commitment of $250 million in federal funds was to expire, Pacific Lumber's parent company finally caved in, reversing its rejection of the deal earlier in the weekend. Feinstein and Sher were both personally involved right up to the end in conference calls with negotiators.
In addition to securing 10,000 acres of old-growth redwoods, the agreement brings Pacific Lumber's entire 211,000 acres under a "habitat conservation plan" regulating the details of future logging activities. It was this plan that was resisted by the company, including the requirement that it apply to any future owner of the land.
Among Sher's important contributions was persuading his legislative colleagues to condition the $242 million in state funds on greater environmental protections, especially wider stream-buffer zones.
With the Headwaters deal now in place, Sher will turn his attention to ensuring it is aggressively monitored and enforced and to additional legislation that will apply the Headwaters agreement to the forest practices of other companies.
U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt summed up the significance of the deal: "It's my judgment that this acquisition will go down in history right along with Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon as one of the great achievements of our time."
Though he wouldn't care, Byron Sher's role in this accomplishment must not be a historical footnote. His quiet and modest leadership deserves recognition and celebration in his home district as well as in Sacramento, Washington and Humboldt County.